(First written 2/10/07)
I often wonder “who have been my best teachers?” I’ve learned many things from many people: my parents; grandparents; aunts and uncles; cousin; Ivy, my mother’s house cleaner; neighbors; those who taught me in school and college; bosses; subordinates; colleagues; friends and lovers; etc. The situations in which I’ve done most learning about myself-generally painful–are those in which inter-personal conflict has forced me to look at myself. But in all truth my most important life teachers-at least those from whom I’m aware that I learn the most from–are a select small group. Authors who keep me supplied with reading material; and my children, each wonderful one of them.
Many years ago, my oldest son asked me “what makes you tick?” To my eternal regret, I never directly answered him-until now–yet the question has stayed with me. It’s one helluva question. Think about it. “What is it that makes you, you?” In part, it’s my physical form, my genetic and cultural inheritance, but mostly it’s the way I behave. And why do I behave the way I do? Because I think the way I think. So what do I think? I spend a lot of time thinking, and when I’m not thinking if I’ve got time to kill I watch my mind wander. Great entertainment.
I mostly think about the meaning of life, and-to rephrase my son’s question-what makes humanity tick. I spend a lot of time thinking about morality; how do you tell what’s right from what’s wrong? At some times I thought I had the answer, but then later I wasn’t so sure. All my life I think I’ve tried to be a “good” person. As, I firmly believe, by and large do most people. I’m guilty of the customary small dodges-white lies, evasions, and flirting round the edges of rules and regulations but my intention is generally positive. Whether or not I’ve actually done any good is not for me to answer, but that’s been my intent. Will the world be a better or worse place if I do “X” rather then “Y”?
Nowadays, in the luxury of retirement, I can choose how I spend each and every moment of each and every day. What a gift! Plenty of thinking time, and the leisure to savor what I read. So exhibit A for today is the question, “What is moral behavior?”
Of one thing I’m sure. Those who are certain they know how other people should behave, don’t have the answer. Their certainty is a clear indication; they may have suggestions, but it’s advisory only. As Bill says, “once you know you have the answer, you’ve lost your capacity to listen.” Morality is about how I should behave, not about how you should behave.
As with most people, my personal beliefs and philosophy lead me to take positions on political issues. I’ve noticed that my positions tend to change over time. I learned from Don Beck to put my hands on my knees so I could notice when they jerked. I wish more people would do that. I’ve learned that if I have a knee-jerk reaction to something, I better look into it because I’m likely to be missing something. To quote Thic Nhat Hanh “Wherever there is perception, there is deception. Most of our perceptions are erroneous. We have to keep asking ourselves: Am I sure?”